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How to market your restaurant or coffee shop


Let’s assume you have a local restaurant in Downtown Vancouver serving lunch and dinner. Your advertising budget is $700/month.

Here’s a $64,000 question answered: you probably don’t need to hire a digital marketing agency to do your marketing. You or a staff member can easily do most of what I am recommending. I suggest you do this yourself because if an employee leaves you’re left high and dry. We all know turnover in the food industry is pretty high.

Let’s look at the search (and intent) data

As far as food goes, Vancouver is an absolute oasis. We have more than 13 prominent nationalities meaning you’ll get the best cuisine of each country in one place.

As for search volume, it looks like we’ve got good numbers:

I am only looking for data within the province of British Columbia. My results almost double when I include Alberta and Ontario.

Let’s not stop there. If we look at interest over time, maybe we can gauge and allocate our budget better:

Looks like the trend is our friend. This isn’t surprising since Vancouver has amazing weather in the summer.

What’s next? Competition. I am going to take our primary keywords above and gauge our compset.

You only need to pay attention to the KD column. Keyword Difficulty estimates how hard it will be to rank in the top 10 organic search results for a given keyword in a given location. It’s calculated by taking a weighted average of the number of linking domains to the current top-ranking pages. The result is then plotted on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 (low difficulty to high). Luckily, restaurants in downtown Vancouver don’t seem to be optimizing or marketing their businesses at a high level. We have an advantage here (if you follow this post and stick with what I recommend).

Should you spend money on ads?

Does a bear shit in the woods? You already spend a bunch of money on your product. Why not make sure the people you’re trying to target see you when they’re hungry. Even if you have perfect Google rankings, you should still take all the real estate you can put your hands on.

Let’s see who is advertising and for what

I live in Coal Harbour and work out of Gastown. We take the team out for lunch and dinner often. Here are my results when I look for, “restaurants near me”:

This is interesting. I see no ads. When I click on, “More Results” I finally see two ads:

Not bad. If you want to be there when someone is looking, you must run local search ads and capitalize on user intent because you’re competing with dozens of restaurants who serve amazing food just like you. Chances are you’re not going to show up at the top all the time. If you can cheat with ads, then do it.

If you want more information on local search ads, Google has a great resource hub on

What about social ads?

Not so fast. Let’s think about this for a second. If you run generic social ads, you’re just giving your money away to Mark Zuckerberg without getting anything back. He has enough as it is and our goal is to make money from his platform. Let’s look at some ideas on how you can capture some eyes when people are interested in what you offer. Remember, we’re trying to help a restaurant that serves lunch and dinner.

Timely ads

Do you have a lunch special? What about happy hour? And let’s not forget daily specials. If you said yes to anything I just mentioned then you can try running timely ads in the time slots you have a special. I’ll give you an example. Your restaurant runs a happy hour special from 3 pm – 5 pm. All drinks are 20% off. Considering the addiction to social media, it might be worth your while to show up when people are looking at their Facebook/Instagram accounts.

Another example could be your daily specials. If you serve a daily special for lunch or dinner, it might be wise to advertise that special during that day. It’s very easy to schedule these ads. Just take an amazing image of what you serve and create your ad.

Here’s how:

  1. Take an awesome picture of each daily special
  2. Write your ad copy (e.g. Monday Homemade Lasagna Special $12.99)
  3. Schedule it during the day it’s available

Holidays and events

There’s a reason why big chain restaurants keep up with holidays and events. They’re constantly coming up with new specials during Thanksgiving, Halloween, Canada Day, stat days, and local special events. Here’s the best part, you can get all your ads ready and schedule them for the entire year.

Example: Halloween after-party dinner special. Enjoy 2 large 3 topping pizzas for just $9 each.

Attracting eyes on social media

Food porn is a real thing and it works. Just check out the success of these accounts:


Let’s not forget that just posting something and leaving it there is not really a social media strategy. You have to engage and interact with people who either love your food or are talking about something you offer somewhere else.

For example, if a customer-generated content about what they just had at your restaurant, you’ll want to share that post on your account.

You also want to reach out to local influencers. These influences tend to have thousands of followers. Invite them over and have them experience what you have to offer. A free meal is worth so much more than hundreds of dollars spent on flyers and snail-mail.

How to find local influencers

  1. Use It’s free
  2. Look up local blogs on Google
  3. Use relevant hashtags

We both know that you’re not busy 100% of the time your restaurant is open. So get your camera ready and start engaging with your customers.

Targeting non-locals

I haven’t tried this but it would be interesting to see how ads perform in other cities. For example, Downtown Vancouver gets a lot of visitors from Alberta, Ontario, and Washington.

I just connected to my VPN and set my location to Toronto. Here is my result for, “restaurants in downtown Vancouver”:

Just as I thought, there are no ads when someone is looking to travel to Vancouver and has an interest in places to eat.

Let’s see what the demand is in and around Toronto for the keyword, “restaurants in downtown Vancouver”:

We’ve got hundreds of people planning their meals before they arrive in Vancouver. Why not be there when they search? Here’s the best part, there is very little competition when advertising in Ontario. I see huge opportunities.

Look, we’re trying to be different here and if it means going outside our typical marketing box, then so be it.

Google My Business

Your Google My Business page is probably the most important part of your marketing. Maybe even more so than your website.

Your My Business page has almost everything you need before people even visit your website. You can post pictures, deals, products, services, answer messages from customers, look at search/click/call data, and post updates all in one place.

Let me put things into perspective. The more active you are on your Google My Business page, the more actions customers will take directly from search.

For example, the more images you share on your business page, the more actions people will take:

Courtesy of Brightlocal

So go ahead and head on over to your business page. Post all your deals and schedule them just like you would with ads. Except it’s free with your business page.

Building authority

A website on its own has very little authority at the beginning of its life. It’s all about popularity and seniority with restaurants. Of course, the product you offer significantly improves your chances of becoming the popular kid on the playground.

Let’s say that you have an amazing product. The ambience of your restaurant is next to perfect. However, you’ve never even considered inviting influencers, local journalists, or important figures to your restaurant. Where do you start? Let’s put a list together to get you started.

  1. Invite local social media influencers to eat at your restaurant. Ask them to invite a friend. Treat them like royalty. Just make sure they showcase their experience on all their social media accounts and websites. When they do, you can take their reviews to post and repost on your social media accounts.
  2. Find local blogs and try to get featured on their websites. We have a few local popular websites, which would definitely give you a boost of authority on Google. Here’s what I found with just a simple search on Google for Vancouver:
  3. Get on blog posts that feature the best restaurants on a single page. These pages are very powerful and tend to show up at the top of search. All you have to do is contact the author and check to see if you can get included in the list. Be nice. Maybe even invite them for lunch/dinner before you even pitch them.
  4. You have got to get more reviews. It not only helps your search rankings but greatly improves your reputation with future customers. You have to be proactive with reviews and remind your customers to leave reviews whenever you can (when they want to pay, offer a discount if they leave a review, add a review link on your website, and respond to all your reviews).

Here’s a great quick recap by Ryan Stewart on how you can market your restaurant or coffee shop.


Email marketing

Email marketing is a different beast. If you offer an amazing product, people will sign up for your email list. I know because we did this for a local restaurant chain and had 2000+ signups in a year. These people are just itching to spend money with you. They love your product and are waiting for news on what else you offer.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Write down all your local holidays and events. Sign up for MailChimp and use their templates to create deals or offers for each holiday or event. You can then schedule your campaigns for the whole year.
  • I am sure you’re going to have updates or new items you’ll be adding to the menu. Why not let all of your loyal customers know right away? Hell, offer them a discount for being such a good customer.
  • Host VIP events just for your subscribers. Big brands like Sephora, Guess, among others, do this all the time. Be proactive and you’ll be printing money in no time.

A few examples of great email marketing templates

Let’s sum it all up

Let’s go over what I just wrote about in steps so that you have a good start and endpoint.

  1. Go over search and intent data on Google Ads. Google gives you detailed search data if you have a paying account. It’s worth investing a few dollars to get this data.
  2. You should invest in Google and social media ads. Gather all the information like daily specials, holiday specials, etc. and schedule your ads accordingly.
  3. You have to take social media marketing seriously if you want to succeed. It’s free and gives you direct access to customers you could never reach before.
  4. Complete and improve your Google My Business page. The more active you are on your business page, the more success you’ll see.
  5. Try to get involved in the community and build authority. You’ll win with Google and the people who live in your city.
  6. Don’t forget to build your email list. These are people who want to pay you and sometimes need a little nudge with an email.

Yes, it requires time and effort to succeed. You can either pay an agency upwards of $5000+/month to do this for you or you can do it yourself. Personally, I think a lot of this can be done on your own. If you require an agency to help guide and set you up, give us a call.

If you’re adventurous, I’ve written an advanced post on an underrated strategy for your clinic using Google My Business on my personal blog. Check it out and let me know what you think.